Tunisia has acceded to six of the seven major United Nations conventions concerned with human rights, namely: the Two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1969), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1967), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1985), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1988), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992). Moreover, Tunisia has signed the Two Optional Protocols of the Rights of the the Child Convention concerning the involvement of children in armed conflicts, sale of children, exploiting children in prostitution and pornographic materials (2000).
Tunisia has also acceded to the eight International Labour Organization conventions on human rights, namely: the two conventions (87 and 98) on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (1957), the two conventions (29 and 105) on Forced or Compulsory Labour (1959 and 1962 respectively), the two conventions (100 and 111) concerning the Elimination of Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (1968 and 1959 respectively), and the two conventions (138 and 182) pertaining to Forbidding the Employment of Children and Minors (1995 and 2000 respectively).
Tunisia made reservations on the provisions of some conventions it has acceded to:
- The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: public announcement that Tunisia will not adopt any measure that is not compatible with the provisions of the first chapter of its constitution which stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state. A second announcement concerning article (15/4) on equal rights of persons to free movement, freedom to choose the place of residence as long as it does not contradict the provisions of the personal status law. Reservation on article (9/2) regarding equal citizenship rights for children as far as it does not contradict Tunisia's citizenship law. Article (16/1) on equal rights during marriage and at its dissolution on condition that they do not contradict Tunisia's personal status law. Article (29/1) concerning arbitration between state parties to the convention in the event of disagreement over interpreting or implementing the convention.
- The Convention Against Torture: upon ratifying this convention Tunisia withdrew its reservation on article (20) concerning the right of the international committee against torture to carry out investigations, and on article (21) regarding arbitration among state parties to the convention and referral to the International Justice Court to hear claims of a state party against another state that it does not fulfill its obligations towards the convention.
- The Rights of the Child Convention: public announcement that Tunisia will not abide by any provisions that contradict its constitution, and that the preamble and provisions of the convention, especially article (6) cannot be interpreted in any way that obstructs Tunisia's abortion laws. Reservation on article (2) which forbids discrimination as far as its provisions do not obstruct the implementation of Tunisia's national law concerning personal status, especially marriage and inheritance rights. Article (7) on citizenship as far as it does not block the implementation of the provisions of its citizenship law, especially in cases of loss of citizenship.
Tunisia has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. Tunisia also acceded to the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004, but did not ratify it like most Arab states. It also acceded to the "African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights (1983). It ratified the protocol of establishing the "African Court for Human and Peoples' Rights (2004).
Human Rights Institutions
Several types of human rights institutions are found in Tunisia at the levels of governmental structures, national institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). At the governmental level, there is a large network of structures concerned with human rights, most notable of which is the position of "Special Advisor to the President on Human Rights" (1991) who was given the task of following up state policy on protecting human rights and continuously enhancing it. There are also human rights units at the ministries of foreign affairs, interior and justice (1992) and ministry of social affairs, in addition to a legal counselor for the ministry of foreign affairs on coordinating and preparing national reports.
At the level of national institutions, the "Supreme Authority for Human Rights and Freedoms" was established on January 7, 1991. Its constituent law defined its functions to include helping the President in supporting and developing human rights and basic freedoms through providing consultation, suggestions, and conducting research related to its mission, in addition to any tasks requested by the President. This authority includes public personalities, such as members of parliament, members of civil societies and associations and representatives of involved ministries who do not have the right to vote. Tunisia also has a large number of non-governmental human rights organizations. The Tunisian Association for Human Rights (1977) is one of the leading human rights organizations in the Arab world as it deals with all aspects of human rights. Other NGOs deal with specific issues of human resources: Atlas Society for Self Development and Solidarity (1990) and Women's Society for Sustainable Development (1994) deal with women's rights. There is also the Tunisian Society for Children's Rights (1998), Tunisian Society of Young Lawyers (1970) and the Society for the Advancement of Employment and Housing (1972). Tunisia is the headquarters of the "Arab Institute of Human Rights" (1989). Meanwhile, the Tunisian government continues to harass human rights organizations and refuses to give permits to a number of important associations, such as the National Council for Freedoms, Democratic Women Association and Tunisia's Center for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. The International Network for Helping Prisoners is not officially recognized and its founders are exposed to harassment by security agencies.
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
Women's cause occupies a central position among the concerns of Tunisia's political leadership since independence. Tunisia is among the first Arab countries to implement the quota system for women. The ruling Democratic Rally is committed to a share of 25% female candidates in legislative elections, a fact that enabled 43 women (22.8%) to become members of Tunisia's 189 members parliament in 2004.